CARROLL PLANTATION, Maine — The state’s top environmental agency will hold a public hearing to help determine whether to permit an industrial wind site proposed for Bowers Mountain, a spokeswoman said Thursday.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection typically holds public meetings to weigh projects, but Commissioner Patricia Aho opted to hold a hearing in fairness to all parties and to help the agency with its process, agency spokeswoman Samantha Depoy-Warren said.
The Bowers proposal is the first to be subject to a DEP public hearing, she said.
“We apparently got a lot of requests for a public hearing,” Depoy-Warren said, “and the folks who were involved in this application [on all sides] are used to that particular process. They are familiar with it, so I expect it to go smoothly as a result.”
A First Wind subsidiary, Champlain Wind LLC, submitted a second application to build atop Bowers Mountain to the DEP in October. The second proposal features 16 turbines instead of 27, company officials have said.
The new project, company officials said, answers problems that led the Land Use Regulation Commission to reject the initial plan in April. Under the new proposal, turbines would be farther from nearby lakes. The towers would feature radar-controlled aviation warning lights to reduce light pollution and carry turbines that generate 30 percent more electricity than previous models.
First Wind of Massachusetts or its subsidiary also would create a watershed fund — money that could be used to improve the deer herd and promote local guiding and other tourism businesses, officials said.
No hearing date has been set. Depoy-Warren announced the hearing Thursday to encourage intervenors to register with the agency.
Prospective intervenors have until 5 p.m. Jan. 7 to request intervenor status in writing from the DEP. This standing allows them to be a formal party to the hearing process providing an opportunity for participation beyond what is typically availed to the general public, including the chance to present evidence under oath and cross-examine other parties, Depoy-Warren said.
A public comment period, under which people can state their opinions on the project without speaking under oath, will also be a part of the hearing.
Located east of Lee and southeast of Springfield near Route 6, Bowers Mountain is 1,127 feet. It overlooks seven lakes — including Bottle, Keg, Duck, Junior and Scraggly lakes — near the western Washington and eastern Penobscot county lines.
Its surroundings include some of the most sensitive wildlands in Maine, project critics have said. The mountain is home to many varieties of wildlife as well as thriving camping, hunting and wildlife guide industries.
About 144 residents live in the proposed host community of Carroll Plantation. Recently, 112 residents and landowners signed a petition in support of the project, company officials said.
Now called the Land Use Planning Commission, LURC voted 5-0 with little fanfare to accept a staff recommendation and reject the 27-turbine project during a brief meeting April 20 in Bangor. Commissioner Robert Dunphy abstained.
Commissioners said they were swayed by arguments that the project would have a punishing effect on nature guides and other tourism-based industries employing hundreds more indirectly.
The commission’s scenic consultant said that Champlain Wind’s consultants downplayed the project’s effect on the region. In their 27-page decision, commissioners said they relied heavily on testimony from the area’s guides that the turbines “would reduce the likelihood their clients would want to return to the area and thus [the turbines would] adversely impact their businesses.”
Anti-wind power advocates and residential groups that had opposed the project called the LURC vote their most significant win since they started fighting projects proposed by First Wind of Massachusetts about five years ago.